Have you ever tried homemade caramel? It is completely different from general caramel sold in the market. The first homemade caramel dessert café in Korea opened on Garosu-gil in Sinsadong. Its name is ‘Maman Gâteau’, which translates as ‘mom’s cookie’. There, guests are treated to tasty delights such as homemade cakes and cookies, with mom’s bountiful love and affection. SMT reporters met Pee Yunjung, the owner and chef of ‘Maman Gâteau’ to talk about her passion for baking and ask her for advice for aspiring Sookmyungians.
Q. First of all, would you please briefly introduce ‘Maman Gâteau’ to our readers?
‘Maman Gâteau’ is comprised of three main divisions: a café, manufacturing, and education. Together, the three divisions combine to create caramel specialty desserts and premium cakes for nearby cafés. The education division opens classes for anyone interested in and desiring baking lessons. At present we have two branches: one in Sinsa and the other in Gangnam, but we are planning to open another store either at the end of this year or the start of the following year at COEX. The idea for the shop’s name came from my first store, ‘Mom’s Color Cookie’, where I made and sold cookies that were “mom-made”. I modified the name a bit because I didn’t think the name was for the area that it was about to open in. Also, in Sinsa, I also wanted to operate the café along with a baking school, so I changed it to ‘Maman Gâteau’. The use of French seemed to be a better choice than English because desserts originated from France and it is famous for its succulent desserts.
Q. You majored in law. What prompted you to start a business that is so distant from your major?
After graduating, I got a job at a financial company without considering my real preference. I soon realized I couldn’t gain any sense of satisfaction at work, so I needed to find something I enjoyed doing, something that would bring happiness throughout my life. As fate would have it, a recession fell upon the nation, and the company I was working at went out of business. I found myself looking at new job training courses. After serious consideration, I enrolled in a baking class. After earning various certifications, I came to realize I have passion for baking. I began learning more and more about baking and after my child’s first birthday, I began to host small classes for neighbors to teach them what I had learnt. I wanted to get more people into baking, so I opened a small cookie shop in front of my house.
Q. Of the many different ingredients used for baking, why did you choose caramel as the main theme of your desserts?
Indeed, the range of baking ingredients is very wide. When I first started, the market was saturated with products like mocha buns and cupcakes. However, I felt that focusing solely on one type of food would result in failure, so I decided to focus on one ingredient. Making homemade caramel led me to a surprise. It was very different from the peanut caramel and milk caramel I ate in my youth. I wanted to give everyone the chance to enjoy the real flavor of caramel. Also, by specializing on only one ingredient, caramel, I did not have to worry about trends, but follow my objective. As a result, I opened the first caramel café in Korea.
Q. Surely you must have encountered obstacles along the way. What were some of them, and how did you overcome them?
As I said, I went to work for a financial company right after graduating from university, so I had no experience of operating a business on my own. It was hard to control everything by myself. Also, having children, I hesitated at first. What really helped me decide to open my own business was a reflection of myself on how I was able to proficiently run a baking class while taking care of my children and doing housework. Other difficulties came later when I started expanding the shop. I worried that I might be pushing my luck, but timing was on my side. Home baking started to become a huge trend and people were looking for places they could take baking lessons. Also, when trans fat had become a huge global issue, I saw it as the perfect as the opportunity to promote my business and its use of healthy ingredients. There were also times when I might have gone too far ahead of trends, but fortunately, I was always able to think my way out and produce good results.
Q. Are there any special events or people you’ve encountered that make you feel pride in what you are doing?
There are so many. One of them is when the café is full of customers. I take great pleasure knowing that people have come to my shop and taste my desserts. Still, what really moves me is people’s words. Class participants in my baking courses often return to say thank you and some have said that because of my class, they were able to successfully open their own business. Others have said that they presented the baked goods from class to others who received them whole-heartedly and gave positive feedback. Stories like those are very heartwarming. One person in particular comes to mind. A lady in her late fifties attended one of my baking classes. She said she, too, was owner of a café, in Yangpyeong. She said with each new baked product she learnt to make, she returned to her café to practice baking it and sold them to her customers. She adamantly claimed I was her role model, but looking at her passion and enthusiasm, I would wonder, “Could I be like her when I am in my fifties?” She is someone I think of often when I’m tired or exhausted.
Q. Although you started the business because you enjoy baking, the difference between doing it as a hobby and as a business could have made you give up what you valued. Would you please comment on this?
Just because I like something doesn’t mean it will be successful or that others will like it. I need to consider what my customers like. Honestly, this is my biggest concern at the moment. Unlike ten years ago, things change rapidly. Something popular can disappear in a blink of an eye, and another thing takes its place. In a society like this, if you do not follow trends, you will fall behind. People know this and try hard to prevent it by fulfilling customers’ tastes, but businesses lose their true colors in doing so. Today is called the information era and young people spark with new, creative ideas. I often ask myself if I have what it takes to survive in such a fast-changing society. As a result, I have no choice but to also follow trends to an extent, but in for the long-term, I will work hard to make sure my unique color shines on.
Q. Lastly, would you give a few final words to Sookmyungians planning to enter career paths unrelated to their major?
A number of students simply choose their major based on its popularity or the ease by which it would be to get a job after graduating. Any Sookmyungian who falls into this situation should look for another path. Indeed, some may hesitate to follow my advice but it is never too late to start something new. For those who did not consider their personal aptitude, it is important to be active and enthusiastic, and experience many things. Value each day and be diligent in all that you do. Sookmyungians, remember that nothing is never too late; now is the time to start a new path.
- Owner and Chef of Maman Gâteau / Director of the Baking Academy
- 2011~2017 Cooperated with Tokyo Confectionery School and
- Ran a Confectionery Training Program
- 2011 Graduated Western-Style Cake Specialty Course at
- Nakamura Culinary School
- Received LE CORDON BLEU Confectionery Diploma
- 1997 Graduate of Division of Law at Sookmyung Women’s University